Agribusiness Watch releases report on the corporate funding behind the agribusiness lobby in Brazil

In Bancada Ruralista, De Olho na Imprensa, De Olho na Política, De Olho no Agronegócio, Empresas estrangeiras, Governo Bolsonaro

Report reveals the participation of multinational companies in the funding chain of an agribusiness think tank called Pensar Agro Institute; corporations such as Bayer, Basf, Syngenta, JBS, Cargill and Nestlé held 278 meetings with the Bolsonaro administration

By Alceu Luís Castilho and Bruno Stankevicius Bassi

Report reveals direct participation of multinational companies in the agribusiness lobby.

Who are the responsibles for the dismantling of socio-environmental regulation in Brazil? Since 2019, Brazilian congressmen are discussing new legislative proposals that undermine the preservation of protected areas in the Amazon rainforest — such as the “land grab” bill and the flexibilization of environmental licensing — and violate the rights of indigenous peoples, legalizing mining activities and commercial farming in their territories. But these ideas do not originate from the inspired minds of the politicians linked to the Agricultural Parliamentary Front (FPA, in the Portuguese acronym), the strongest lobby group in Brasília.

There is a thinking brain behind the FPA: a group of lobbyists and executives from class entities and agribusiness companies, organised by the Pensar Agro Insituto (IPA), which formulates the legislative agendas and defines the political positioning of the front.

In 2019, the Agribusiness Watch revealed the tip of this iceberg, showing some of the multinationals that were affiliated by associations that maintain the IPA: the producers of pesticides and GM seeds Bayer, Basf and Syngenta, the soybean processors Cargill, Bunge, ADM and Louis Dreyfus; the meatpackers JBS and Marfrig and food industries such as Nestlé and Danone.

But these corporations are not passive actors in the agribusiness lobby in Brasília. This is what our latest report shows: “The Financiers of Destruction: how multionational companies sponsor agribusiness lobby and sustain the dismantling of socio-environmental regulation in Brazil“.

It reveals that, during the administration of president Jair Bolsonaro, agribusiness companies met 278 times with government officials of the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Supply (MAPA). On the agenda, topics such as the relaxation of rules for pesticides, the authorization for testing new substances directly in field trials (instead of laboratories) and the implementation of “self-inspection” programs for sanitary control.

With its cover illustrated by award-winning cartoonist Renato Aroeira, the report points Syngenta as the leader in influence with the government, with 81 meetings with MAPA officials; followed by JBS, with 75; Bayer, 60; Basf, 26; Nestlé, 23; and Cargill, 13.

The report is available in Portuguese here.

BAYER PARTICIPATED IN SECRET MEETINGS

The survey took into account only the meetings recorded in the official agenda of MAPA officials between January 2019 and June 2022. However, the building entry records of MAPA, obtained through the Information Access Law (LAI), tell another story.

During that period, Bayer’s former head of Public Affairs, Silvia Menicucci, visited the ministry’s headquarters 25 times. Of these, 16 were not registered in official agendas. At the Chamber of Deputies, Brazil’s Lower House, the executive was there 14 times between 2018 and 2019.

Bolsonaro welcomes Werner Baumann, CEO of Bayer, in 2019. (Source: Brazil’s Presidency)

The case is one of the report’s highlights, which demonstrates the ease with which agribusiness conglomerates gain access to Bolsonaro’s top tier cabinet. In October 2019, Bayer’s global CEO Werner Baumann met personally with Bolsonaro at an event promoted by the export promotion agency Apex-Brasil, where mrs. Menicucci had served between 2008 and 2014.

In 2022, it was the turn of former minister Tereza Cristina to honor the company by participating in an institutional video, posted on Bayer’s official channels, to talk about rural insurance. The director of Agricultural Policies of MAPA, Pedro Loyola, also participated in the video.

In response to the report, Bayer said that meetings with public agents are “regulated by federal legislation and by internal policies of the company itself” and that these meetings were “formally requested to the agencies with which the company maintains interactions”. MAPA classified the participation of Tereza Cristina in the institutional video as an “interview”, with the purpose of “providing information about public policies conducted by this Ministry, especially about the Rural Insurance program”. The agency did not comment on the meetings outside the official agenda.

Check out the full responses here.

UNDER BOLSONARO, CORPORATE LOBBY INVADES THE MINISTRY OF AGRICULTURE

Since the publication of the first series of journalistic articles on the Pensar Agro Institute’s funding scheme in 2019, the agribusinss think tank has thrived. Today, the IPA has 48 member associations. With the increase in funds, the institute has multiplied its team, advancing not only in legislative agenda but also in the development of pro-agribusiness campaigns.

Bolsonaro and Tereza Cristina in a meeting with FPA’s president. (Source: Agência FPA)

IPA’s advertising is not limited to promoting the sector. Through FPA’s channels, the agribusiness organisation started in 2021 a campaign against this observatory, insinuating that the Agribusiness Watch did “fake news”.

This strengthening is also the result of the power that IPA and FPA have gained in the federal government since Bolsonaro took office. Besides the meetings with companies, the report “The Financiers of Destruction” shows that lobbyists and agribusinss leaders met 160 times with MAPA officials. Of these, 20 meetings were attended by then-minister Tereza Cristina, a former president of the FPA.

Besides the Ministry of Agriculture, they were received in the ministries of Economy (33 times), Environment (4), Justice and Public Safety (1) and Education (1).

The alliance with MAPA is explicit even in the response to Agribusiness Watch’s report. A few hours after sending an information request to the Ministry, one of our team members was contacted by IPA’ press officer, who said she had learned about the questions directed to the government about the relationship with the institute, demanding access to the content.

Neither the IPA nor the FPA sent a formal response to the report.

REPORT OPENS EXCLUSIVE COVERAGE ON RURAL LOBBY

The publication of the report “The Financiers of Destruction: how multionational companies sponsor agribusiness lobby and sustain the dismantling of socio-environmental regulation in Brazil” opens Agribusiness Watch’s electoral coverage of the FPA and IPA’s actions throughout the Bolsonaro government. By October, new reports and feature contents will be published exploring the role of companies, associations and lobbyists in the agribusiness lobby ecosystem in Brasilia.

Brazil needs to change its Congress, not only its Presidency. (Source: De Olho nos Ruralistas)

A shortened version of the report was presented last Thursday (14), at a meeting with members of the European Parliament in São Paulo. Preliminary results of the survey, focused on meetings held by pesticide multinationals, were also used in the study “Toxic Trading: the EU pesticide lobby’s offensive in Brazil”, launched in April by the environmental network Friends of the Earth Europe, under the coordination of researchers Audrey Changoe and Larissa Bombardi.

In June, the Agribusiness Watch initiated a special and unprecedented coverage, with the objective of scrutinizing the agrarian and environmental policies of recent years. Until October, we will launch new dossiers and multiply the reports and videos, with an expanded team.

Follow our website, follow our social networks (Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and Instagram) and keep an eye out for upcoming publications. Strengthen the independent press! To support our project, click here.

Cover illustration (Aroeira/De Olho nos Ruralistas): report exposes multinational funding to agribusiness lobby

| Alceu Luís Castilho, director and editor-in-chief |

|| Bruno Stankevicius Bassi, project coordinator ||

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